Do progressives have a limiting principle, a point where "this much change is sufficient" or is progressivism simply a direction without a limit?

Digging into the assumptions behind this question we discover some interesting contradictions — and likely a misunderstanding of the causality in play regarding certain outcomes.

The greatest drivers of change in the developed world actually do not include “progressivism.” That is a complete misunderstanding of causality in both history and current conditions. The biggest drivers of change include:

1.The profit motive as expressed in corporate commercialism — which has completely changed both the political power structure in the U.S. and globally through concentrations of wealth and plutocratic influence, and completely changed culture through “newer is better” Kool-Aid and commercialized homogenization across previously diverse cultures as well. When cookie-cutter legislation written by and for corporations (via A.L.E.C.) is passed in every state legislature, and every U.S. consumer is using the same products, listening to the same corporate-controlled media, and working under conditions and wages dictated by corporate investors, then “progressive” agendas really represent just a tiny drop of influence in the hurricane of dynamic capitalism — it is capitalism that is the juggernaut instigating and steering the direction of much of our culture and politics.

2. Technology — the industrial revolution, the information age, the rise of automation, and complex systems managed by algorithms and AI…you really can’t place any of these at the feet of progressives either. Our species is addicted to technological innovation. And it is a pretty unstoppable force at this point in terms of the impact it has on culture, learning, information propagation, and indeed human development. Progressives may celebrate technology in their policy proposals — but no more than conservatives celebrate and reinforce technology with their spending habits.

3. Scientific inquiry and knowledge — this has created enormous common sense incentives for changing certain traditional practices and revising traditional views about how the world works. When science discovers that a new way of doing things (or a new way of thinking about things) is advantageous and beneficial to everyone, then this creates tension with previous conceptions, habits, and beliefs. Here progressives do tend to be more emphatic than conservatives about promoting science and scientific understanding, that is true. But it is scientific discovery itself that is most often introducing and propagating the change.

These three forces have accelerated cultural shifts that likely would have taken decades or centuries to occur in pre-industrial mass societies. Have progressives often championed certain themes, practices, perspectives, and values that were accelerated by the breakneck growth of capitalism, science, and technology? Well sure…but saying progressives were responsible for these changes is putting the cart before the horse.

I noticed in some of the comments in this thread that critical race theory was raised as a concern. Let’s put that into the context I have sketched out here. Slavery was a key component in the development of capitalism (see Beckert, Baptiste, Johnson, et al for this linkage) — but in particular it was integral to the economic strength and success of Southern states. Technology (industrialization) was responsible for the economic strength of Northern states — and for an alternative to slavery in the production of goods — both of which rapidly undermined the usefulness of slavery and its economic status and preference. And of course industrial production was also integral to the development of capitalism. Interestingly, it was conservative Christians who were frequently at the forefront of championing equal human rights and emancipation of slaves in the first anti-slavery political movements. However, you’ll notice there aren’t any progressives involved here…in fact the progressive movement hadn’t even started yet. So the cultural shift away from slavery was driven by technology, an evolving economic system, and conservative values in this instance…and not progressives.

And this is the pattern that repeats itself even when progressives came on the scene: it was other primary forces that sparked changed, rather than progressivism itself. Progressivism arose in part as an affirmative response to some of these forces (technology and science in particular), and in part as a countervailing response to the abuses of capitalism. Progressivism was itself a consequence of these forces — one of many changes they inspired.

With respect to the evolution of CRT, all that progressives did was apply scientific inquiry to history in an attempt to identify patterns that kept occurring over time. That’s it. In the case of critical race theory, the understanding of history around the oppression of people of color seemed to indicate that white people sought to maintain their privileged advantage in society simply — this wasn’t always a conscious thing, but it seemed evident in many civic institutions and cultural practices. But this pattern of tacit prejudice did become an enormous blindspot in mainstream understanding, with even the history and practice of slavery being an example of this oversight. Unfortunately, there are a lot of other institutional, political, and legal examples of oppression that can also be explained as protecting the social and economic advantages of white people — so the hypothesis (which is really all CRT actually is) has gained a lot of traction over time. It’s just a pretty good explanation of certain dynamics in U.S. history.

But is the approach valid? I think the point is that CRT can be reasonably discussed and debated. But as the current anti-CRT movement also vehemently opposes any examination of racism in the U.S., we could say that, whether intended or not, the anti-CRT movement is itself an example of (mainly) white people suppressing any exposure of their own privilege and advantage in society — both historical and current — and/or the prejudice they may perpetuate without even being aware of it.

So, on the one hand, progressives do tend to promote technology and scientific understanding as solutions for longstanding problems. But, on the other, they often oppose corporate commercialism’s influence on how things change, even as conservatives tend to promote unchecked growth and change when it benefits the profit motive. So no one is innocent of advocating for change. In a way both progressives and consrervatives are equally both promoters and gatekeepers of change.
Lastly, trying to claim progressivism is some sort of Marxist academic takeover of America (i.e. the “cultural Marxism” attack) is utter hogwash. A thoughtful and observant person doesn’t have to be Marxist to see the problems inherent to capitalism, neoliberalism, and plutocracy.

So, as usual, such things are more nuanced than any black-and-white rhetoric. Putting a more nuanced spin on it, this question could be restated this way: “Does the runaway innovation and cultural change fueled by technology, science, and capitalism have no limits? Will the hunger for constant change inspired by these forces remain unchecked? Do conservatives recognize that their opposition to cultural change is contradicted and undermined by their support of commercialism, corporate agendas, and expanding the political power of owner-shareholders? And do progressives recognize their role in moderating the corrosive influence of plutocracy as inherently ‘conservative’…?“

My 2 cents.


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